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Pollard v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 9, 2016

ANITRA POLLARD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON United States District Judge

         In October of 2011, officers from the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") arrested Kevin Witherspoon-a then-29-year-old D.C. resident with an intellectual disability and a phonological disorder-for his participation in what is known as a "buy/bust" drug operation. The undisputed facts establish that Witherspoon got into an unmarked police car with an undercover police officer, and then, at the officer’s prompting, directed the officer to two different locations, where he purchased marijuana and cocaine with money the officer provided and brought the drugs back to the officer. Although Witherspoon was promptly arrested, he was not ultimately prosecuted; nevertheless, his sisters, Anitra Pollard and Lakeisha Witherspoon ("Plaintiffs"), have filed the instant action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against MPD and various individual officers (collectively, "Defendants") to recover for what they contend was an egregious violation of Witherspoon’s rights. Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that Witherspoon’s arrest breached federal and state law in myriad ways, the most notable of which is the assertion that the officers with whom Witherspoon interacted violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments because they lacked probable cause to arrest him.

         Before this Court at present is Defendants’ combined partial motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity and partial motion to dismiss the complaint. Defendants’ motion addresses only the complaint’s constitutional claims, and given the limited scope of the parties’ discovery thus far, Defendants seek summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 only with respect to the constitutional claims that hinge on the legitimacy of the arrest: Count I (state endangerment in violation of the Fifth Amendment), Count II (false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment), and Count IV (Fifth Amendment abuse of process). (See Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss & Summ. J. ("Defs.’ Mem."), ECF No. 101 at 8-9.)[1] In regard to these counts, Defendants argue that, even taking the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs have not established that Witherspoon’s arrest violated any constitutional right, and that, in any event, no such right was clearly established. Defendants also request that Plaintiffs’ other constitutional claims-Count III (unlawful taking under the Fifth Amendment), Count V (state endangerment at the D.C. jail in violation of the Fifth Amendment), Count VI (failure to protect in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments), Count VII (failure to train MPD officers in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments), and Count IX (failure to protect Plaintiff Lakeisha Witherspoon in violation of the Fifth Amendment)-be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (See id.)

         As explained fully below, after a motion hearing and a thorough review of the record and the parties’ respective arguments, this Court agrees with Defendants that none of Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims passes muster under Rule 56 and Rule 12, and therefore, the Court concludes that Defendants’ motion for summary judgment and dismissal must be GRANTED. Moreover, the Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ remaining state law claims, and thus, the state law claims will be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE, leaving Plaintiffs free to pursue them, should they choose to do so, in state court.

         A separate order consistent with the memorandum opinion will follow.

         I.BACKGROUND

         A. Facts Regarding Witherspoon’s Arrest

         As mentioned above, this case arises out of a specific encounter between Kevin Witherspoon and certain officers of the MPD on October 21, 2011. The basic facts regarding the nature and circumstances of the interaction between the officers and Witherspoon are hotly disputed; the thrust of each side’s recitation is as follows.

         1. Plaintiffs’ Version

         According to the Second Amended Complaint, Witherspoon was born with a severe intellectual disability and has the intellectual capabilities of a child. (See SAC ¶¶ 16-22.) Witherspoon’s mother died in 2004, and he now lives with his sister Lakeisha Witherspoon and receives support from older sister Anitra Pollard, who is also his guardian and conservator. (See Id . ¶¶ 23-25.)

         On October 21, 2011, Lakeisha allowed Witherspoon to leave their residence by himself and go to the corner store with a small amount of money. The complaint alleges that, on his way there, Witherspoon was approached by Defendant Officers Durham and Hall, who "convinced him" to enter their undercover police vehicle. (See Id . ¶¶ 31-33.) Plaintiffs assert that the officers then drove to an area of known drug activity, where they (along with the defendant officers Walker, Jackson, and Anderson) "supervised, directed, and engaged" Witherspoon to negotiate the purchase of marijuana and cocaine. (See Id . ¶ 38.) The complaint states that the officers immediately arrested Witherspoon and, thereafter, filed a report that failed to mention Witherspoon’s intellectual disability. (See Id . ¶ 40.) Plaintiffs also contend that Witherspoon was placed in the general population at the D.C. jail, where he "suffered violent threats" (see Id . ¶ 44) and "sustained injury" (see Id . ¶ 45).

         Plaintiffs assert that, following Witherspoon’s arrest, a grand jury refused to indict him for these drug transactions, and the United States Attorney declined to prosecute him. (See ECF No. 30, Exs. 2 & 3.) However, Plaintiffs allege that Witherspoon was branded a police informant in his community, which placed him and his family in danger. (See SAC ¶¶ 52.) Their property was allegedly vandalized, and Plaintiffs assert that they were forced to move due to death threats. (See Id . ¶¶ 53-54.)

         2. Defendant’s Version

         As noted, Defendants contest various salient aspects of Plaintiffs’ story. According to Defendants, Officer Durham was driving around the Seventh District in an unmarked vehicle when Witherspoon approached his car and asked for a ride. (See Defs.’ Statement of Material Facts ("Defs.’ SMF"), ECF No. 101 at 29-31, ¶¶ 2, 5; Dep. of Hampton D. Durham ("Durham Dep."), ECF Nos. 101-2 & 108-8, at 7:3-18, 11:15-12:3.) Officer Durham purportedly observed a known gang-affiliation tattoo on Witherspoon’s face (see Defs.’ SMF ¶ 4); he then asked Witherspoon about obtaining marijuana (see Id . ¶ 5). Witherspoon allegedly said that he could obtain marijuana for Officer Durham. (See Id . ¶¶ 5.)

         Purportedly following Witherspoon’s lead, the officers went back to the apartment building that Witherspoon had originally emerged from. (See Id . ¶ 6.) Witherspoon entered the building and purchased marijuana in an apartment that he had been to "plenty of times" before, using money that Officer Durham had given him. (See Id . ¶¶ 5-6.) Defendants assert that Witherspoon then directed Officer Durham to a new location and purchased cocaine for Officer Durham using money that Officer Durham had provided. (See Id . ¶ 7.) Notably, Officer Durham claimed that he did not perceive anything unusual about Witherspoon at any point during these interactions (see Id . at 31 ¶ 8), and after the second drug transaction, the buy/bust team arrested Witherspoon for distribution of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (see Id . ¶ 9; Ex. 4 to Defs.’ SMF at 2).

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed the initial complaint in this matter on June 20, 2012 (see ECF No. 1), and an amended complaint on September 4, 2012 (see ECF No. 30). The district judge to whom the case was originally assigned ordered discovery on the sole issue of whether Witherspoon’s arrest was supported by probable cause. (See ECF No. 32.) The case was then reassigned to the undersigned on April 4, 2013. After a period of limited discovery, the parties each moved for summary judgment on the probable cause question. This Court denied both parties’ motions for summary judgment on February 14, 2014, because genuine issues of material fact remained with respect to whether or not Officer Durham had probable cause to arrest Witherspoon. (See Order, ECF No. 48.)[2]

         On January 6, 2015, this Court held an initial scheduling conference and the parties proceeded with broader discovery. During the discovery period, Plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, which the Court granted (see ECF Nos. 69, 87), and Plaintiffs filed the new complaint (the one at issue at present) on May 14, 2015 (see ECF No. 88). Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint (hereinafter referred to as "SAC") makes eight claims that allegedly arise under the U.S. Constitution: state endangerment during the undercover drug operation in violation of the Fifth Amendment (Count I); false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Count II); unlawful taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment (Count III); abuse of process in violation of the Fifth Amendment (Count IV); state endangerment at the D.C. jail in violation of the Fifth Amendment (Count V); failure to protect in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments (Count VI); failure to train MPD officers in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments (Count VII); and failure to protect Plaintiff Lakeisha Witherspoon in violation of the Fifth Amendment (Count IX). (See SAC ¶¶ 55-143, 150-159.) In addition, the complaint claims that certain Defendants are liable for negligent training and supervision under D.C. common law (Counts VIII and X).[3](See Id . ¶¶ 144-149, 160-165.)

         Shortly after the SAC was filed, Defendants sought to stay discovery, asserting that they intended to file a motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity. (See ECF No. 92.) The Court denied this stay request (see ECF No. 95), and discovery proceeded.

         Defendants filed the instant partial motion for summary judgment and partial motion to dismiss the complaint on June 16, 2015. (See Defs.’ Mem.) Defendants have moved for summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ claims of state endangerment (Count I), false arrest (Count II), and abuse of process (Count IV), and have moved to dismiss the remaining constitutional claims (Counts III, V, VI, VII, and IX) for failure to state a claim. (See Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss & for Summ J., ECF No. 101.) In the motion, Defendants argue that the arresting officers are entitled to qualified immunity because no constitutional violation took place during the undercover drug operations, and there was certainly no violation of a clearly established constitutional right, even when the facts are construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs. Defendants assert that this is so because the full record demonstrates that Officer Durham had sufficient probable cause to arrest Witherspoon (see Defs.’ Mem. at 12-20), and Plaintiffs’ entrapment-based argument fails as a matter of law (see Id . at 20-23). Defendants also contend that Plaintiffs’ remaining counts-i.e., the constitutional claims that do not stem directly from the alleged illegality of Witherspoon’s arrest-fail to allege constitutional violations (see Id . at 23-33). For their part, Plaintiffs’ brief in opposition to Defendants’ motion disagrees with Defendants’ assessments of the facts and the law; specifically, Plaintiffs’ argue that the facts are sufficient to demonstrate a series of established constitutional violations relating to Mr. Witherspoon’s arrest and treatment, and that they must be allowed to proceed to trial on each of their claims. (See generally Pls.’ Resp. to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss & for Summ. J. ("Pl.’s Resp."), ECF No. 108.)

         Defendants’ motion became ripe on July 17, 2015, and this Court held a hearing on the combined motion to dismiss and for summary judgment on February 4, 2016.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Motions To Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a party may move to dismiss a complaint on the grounds that it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). "Although ‘detailed factual allegations’ are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must plead enough facts to make the claim plausible on its face." Patterson v. United States, 999 F.Supp.2d 300, 305 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "[M]ere conclusory statements" alleging misconduct are not enough; the plaintiff must provide "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id.

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, "[t]he court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, and the plaintiff should receive the benefit of all [reasonable] inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Patterson, 999 F.Supp.2d at 305. "[T]he court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc’ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). The court need not accept the plaintiff’s legal conclusions, even if they are couched as factual allegations. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         B. Summary Judgment Under Rule 56

         Summary judgment must be granted if the moving party demonstrates "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court’s role is "to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial, " Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986), that is, whether the record contains sufficient evidence "that a reasonable jury could return a verdict" in the non-movant’s favor, id. at 248.

         In the qualified immunity context at the summary judgment stage, the "evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Kyle v. Bedlion, No. 12-CV-1572, 2016 WL 1301043, at *4 (D.D.C. Apr. 1, 2016) (quoting Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014) (per curiam)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The "judge’s function at summary judgment is not ‘to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.’" Tolan, 134 S.Ct. at 1866 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In deciding whether the non-movant has provided enough evidence that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in his favor, "the court must first identify the version of events that best comports with the summary judgment standard and then ask whether, given that set of facts, a reasonable officer should have known that his actions were unlawful." Kyle, 2016 WL 1301043, at *4 (quoting Morelli v. Webster, 552 F.3d 12, 19 (1st Cir. 2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "This is because, once the court has determined the relevant set of facts and drawn all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party to the extent supportable by the record, the reasonableness of the ...


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